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New Law Increases Penalties For Aggressive Paparazzi

A new state law that takes effect on January 1 will increase the penalties for paparazzi who recklessly chase after celebrities in traffic.

California is cracking down on paparazzi.

A YouTube search for “aggressive paparazzi” will yield this: a bunch of photographers swarming around Brittany Spears as she gets out of a black sedan and takes one of her kids out of a car seat. Spears even asks the paparazzi to give her space.

“It’s a little like the Wild West,” said Sean Burke who heads the Los Angeles-based Paparazzi Reform Initiative. "You just pick up a camera and you start chasing someone around and you may get a shot that’s worth $50,000.”

Burke’s group supported a new California state law that kicks in on January 1, increasing the penalties, including possible jail time, for photographers who drive recklessly while chasing down celebrities.

“I know so many people that have been driving down the street and all of a sudden a big SUV flies in front of them and it’s a paparazzo chasing after a celebrity," he said. "So it’s very much a public safety issue.”

But opponents of the new law say it unfairly targets news-gathering as an activity subject to extreme criminal punishment, such as Tom Newton, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publisher's Association.

“We think that’s potentially unconstitutional," Newton said.

He said although their behavior may be outrageous, singling out tabloid photographers goes against the First Amendment.

“None of our members engage in it but we believe that existing laws should already be sufficient to go after this activity no matter who engages in it," Newton said.

Newton said he expects to see a legal challenge someday if a member of the paparazzi is ever arrested under the new law.

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